Sexual violence is unwanted, non-consensual sexual activity. It is a public health problem that affects more than half of women and one in three men at some point in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)
The impact of sexual assault lingers for many victims, negatively affecting their mental and physical health and wellness. At Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin, our New York sexual abuse lawyers want survivors to know that help is available, and perpetrators can be held accountable.
To get started, here are answers to some common questions about sexual abuse and assault and their legal ramifications.
It’s not uncommon for victims of sexual violence to feel uncertain or unsure, wondering if what they experienced actually constitutes assault or abuse. It’s one reason many sexual crimes go unreported.
In New York, sexual assault is an umbrella term that refers to various sexual crimes. These crimes involve unwanted contact of a sexual nature occurring without the victim’s consent. Examples of sexual assault include:
In New York, sex crimes are classified by degree based on the victim’s age and mental and physical capacity and other extenuating circumstances.
Sexual coercion is the use of pressure, threats, tricks, or force to get a person to do something they don’t want to do. Victims of coercion often feel like they “owe” their abuser sex or fear the consequences if they don’t cooperate.
Coercion often occurs in a dynamic where the abuser is in a position of power over the victim. No one is required to have sex with another person. Even if sex by coercion doesn’t involve physical force—it is still considered sexual abuse.
A sexual predator seeks out sexual contact with another person in an abusive or predatory manner. For these dangerous individuals, the act of sexual contact is not as much about the sex itself, as it is the desire to control and exert dominance over the victim.
Sexual predators don’t fit a certain “type.” They come from all types of communities and all walks of life. Very often, they are people we know and trust. These are the family members, neighbors, employers, doctors and partners that the outside world may never suspect could be capable of sexual violence. It is not uncommon for sexual predators to abuse many individuals over the course of years or decades, as in the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein and others.
There are some common predatory behaviors you may notice before an assault occurs. Common signs of a sexual predator include:
Sexual abusers often convince the victim they can provide things no one else can. They do this by showering them with attention, compliments, and material gifts to gain their adoration and loyalty, and using that loyalty to their advantage.
Once they have earned a victim’s trust, sweet talk often takes an ugly turn. Sexual predators often criticize or insult victims to chip away at their self-esteem and make them more vulnerable to abuse. Gaslighting is manipulative language used to belittle the victim and make them question their own values, thoughts and experiences.
Many sexual predators are jealous of their victim’s relationships with other people. They look at their emails and texts and track their whereabouts. Sexual predators also like to control their victims, limiting interactions with anyone they perceive as a threat.
Before a sexual predator acts on their impulses, they may push beyond healthy boundaries to desensitize the victim to inappropriate physical contact. It can start with seemingly innocent touching on the arm or back, and gradually evolve into rubbing on more personal parts of the body without consent.
Certainly, these behaviors are not always indicative of a possible sexual predator. However, they are red flags to assess your relationships and determine if they are healthy—and if you may be a victim of sexual violence.
After any type of sexual assault, your personal safety should be your immediate concern. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
Go to the hospital if you are hurt. They will provide a rape kit to collect DNA and other evidence. Because the window for collecting these samples is short, try to go as soon as you’re able and avoid showering or washing your hair in the meantime. If the abuser is a partner or someone in the home, find a safe location to stay as you form an exit plan.
Many assault victims describe shock, rushing adrenaline and feelings of being overwhelmed in the hours and days after a violent attack. Even if you feel like being alone, support is so important at this time. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Or contact a 24-hour crisis hotline if you prefer to remain anonymous.
From there, you must decide if you are going to report the assault to the authorities. Fear of not being believed should never discourage you from taking action.
It’s also wise to contact a sexual assault lawyer to learn your rights and find out what legal steps you can take to hold your abuser accountable under the law. If the incident happened on the job, contact a lawyer specializing in workplace sexual harassment.
Even if your assault happened many years ago, New York law protects the rights of victims to sue their abuser.
The Adult Survivors Act has temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for survivors across New York State. It currently allows sexual abuse victims who were over the age of 18 when the assault occurred to sue their abusers, regardless of when their abuse took place. This window of opportunity will expire on November 23, 2023, as the ASA allows for only a one-year lookback window from its effective date of November 24, 2022.
Victims who were minors at the time of the assault may be able to seek justice under the Child Victims Act. The CVA now allows victims to sue up to the age of 55 if they were under 18 at the time of the assault. The specific date of the abuse and age of the victim at that time affect whether this law may be applicable. Contact our skilled child sexual abuse attorneys to learn more.
If you or someone you care about is a victim of sexual abuse, visit these links for resources across New York and nationwide:
As a victim of sexual violence, you have rights.
First, you can report sexual abuse to the police. Certain sex crimes, including rape and aggravated sexual abuse, have no statute of limitations for criminal cases. For others, you may be required to report them within a certain time period. That’s advised anyway to protect valuable evidence related to your case.
You also have the right to sue for damages in civil court. You may be entitled to financial compensation for a devastating sexual assault. Pain and suffering, medical bills, lost income, and mental health services are some of the damages awarded in many civil sexual assault lawsuits.
There are some differences between how sexual assault cases are handled in the criminal court system and in the civil courts.
Criminal convictions are enforced to penalize offenders for unlawful acts. Convicted sex offenders typically go to jail and may have to register as sex offenders, which impacts future housing and employment.
When you sue a sexual offender in civil court, the goal is to compensate victims for their trauma. Financial damages are awarded based on all of the ways a single assault, or prolonged sexual violence has impacted the victim physically, emotionally, and financially.
Because the burden of proof is lower for civil suits, it’s often easier to reach a good outcome this way than it is to land a criminal conviction. In a criminal proceeding, the state must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This requires showing that there is no reasonable way the crime was committed by anyone other than the defendant.
In civil proceedings, the standard of proof required is a “preponderance of evidence.” That means the plaintiff must show that, based on the evidence, it is more likely than not that sexual violence occurred. In concrete terms, the plaintiff must show that it is more than 50% likely that the defendant was responsible for the harm that they suffered.
Civil lawsuits may not put the offender behind bars. But they are a valuable legal tool to give victims financial restitution and a sense of peace of mind knowing their abuser has been held accountable.
As a victim of sexual violence, you should never be deterred from speaking out against a predator, even if they are high-profile or associated with a well-known business or organization. Everyone deserves justice.
Call or connect online to schedule a free and discreet consultation with a New York Sexual Harassment attorney or sexual abuse attorney today. We assist clients across New York City and all of New York State.